November 15, 2011 6:52pm PT by Alex Ben Block
Judge to Set Trial Date in Golden Globes Legal Fight
The new federal judge overseeing the legal battle for the Golden Globes telecast will hear arguments on November 30 to determine when a trial in the case will begin.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which puts on the awards, wants the trial to start in early January, in part because its lead lawyer, Daniel Petrocelli, isn’t expected to be available from February to July. Lawyers for Dick Clark Productions have asked for a March start for the trial, even though it learned in a legal filing a month ago that the HFPA lawyer wouldn’t be available.
The DCP lawyers argue that starting the case in January would mean the legal battle would be going on when the Globes show takes place on January 15, and that would damage the telecast. "A trial that commences only one week before the show is scheduled to air and that would be ongoing on the actual air date, can be expected to negatively impact the show by focusing attention away from the awards ceremony and towards the parties' dispute," wrote the DCP attorneys.
Lawyers for the HFPA argue that a timely settlement of the case is important, and that it won’t damage the show.
The opposing points of view were part of a joint status report presented to Judge Howard A. Matz on Monday.
The case had at one point been scheduled to begin in September, but then federal Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank withdrew for health reasons only days before it was to start. A month later Judge Matz was assigned the complicated case. The judge said he would not be available to oversee a trial until at least January due to other commitments.
Both sides have agreed that the trial will proceed without a jury and the judge will make the final decision on the case.
After a series of legal filings were made by both sides in October, Judge Matz asked the HFPA and DCP to together provide him with a filing that would lay out the status of the case to date, including key points from both sides, a list of proposed witnesses, an estimate of how long a trial would take (about two weeks) and their view on when it should start.
The judge could decide on Nov. 30 or wait until some time after that to issue his order. He could set the trial to begin in January, or he might decide it will start in March, subject to Petrocelli’s availability.
It would not be unprecedented for the judge to set a trial date even though the HFPA lawyer has other obligations. Or the judge could decide to wait until July or some later time when Petrocelli is sure to be available.
The key issue at stake is whether DCP has the right to continue as producer of the show based on earlier contracts that tied its participation to the highly rated awards program airing on NBC.
The contract between the HFPA and NBC expired after the January 2010 show. Then DCP, without the approval of the HFPA, made a new multi-year deal directly with NBC.
The HFPA wants to drop DCP as producer and put the show rights up for auction among the major networks. CBS, among others, has said it would be a bidder.
When the trial was postponed from September, both sides made a new one-year deal with NBC for the 2012 show so that the awards would not be interrupted. If the case drags on, they could do that for another year.
NBC has indicated that if it loses the rights to the Globes, it will likely file its own legal action for its damages.